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Parent Engagement - The Practicalities


This is part two of a two-part series.

As educators it is vital that we look at ways to work in our communities so that genuine partnership builds capacity for effective parental engagement, connecting learning at school, in the home, and in the community. Increasing parent engagement may be an ideal place for schools and community services to collaborate. While schools are pedagogy experts, community service agencies are experts in engaging all families but particularly those that are vulnerable.

For parents and families this means taking opportunities in the everyday interactions they have with their children to promote and support learning. The significant impact of engagement is supported by an extensive body of research, including research in the ACT, that found that parental engagement is most effective when it is focused on:

  • developing positive attitudes towards learning and education
  • building the motivation and confidence of learners, and
  • fostering their enjoyment of learning.

An example of this in action is the Education Capital: Progressing Parent Engagement in the ACT’. A number of fact sheets give an overview of the structure, with excellent practical examples for educators and parents. Excerpts from a parent fact sheet state:

‘The impact parents can have: Parents and families are children’s first teachers and they continue to help their children to learn and thrive throughout the school years. When their family’s love and support is combined with the expert knowledge of teachers, it can have a significant and lasting impact:

  • Children can be more likely to enjoy learning and be motivated to do well;
  • Children can have better relationships with other children, improved behaviour and greater confidence;
  • Children can do better at school and are more likely to graduate and go on to college, TAFE or university;
  • Children can be less likely to miss days at school.’

A further example of implementation is outlined in Uplift: An Empowerment Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools. The simple process, that totalled less than ten hours, focused on three workshops that encouraged parents to create a vision for their children’s school years. From this, actions for families, schools and the community were identified that will better support each child’s holistic development. The framework is adaptable to other communities as the defined action plan is, and should be specific to each local context.

Exploring parental engagement practices in your school/college

Understanding the nature and extent of a school’s parental engagement focus is important. These questions may also be useful to ask:

  • Is parental engagement a recognised topic of staff meetings, professional development, and induction of new staff?
  • How do parents and community members participate in school activities?
  • Does the school celebrate events that matter to the school community, such as significant cultural days?
  • How can schools plan for parental engagement to make participation as easy as possible? For example, how can scheduling and notification about school events and activities be organised to maximise parental engagement?
  • How can communication about parental engagement opportunities be designed to maximise engagement?
  • How can the school mobilise influential community members and parents to engage other community members and parents?  
  • What support do school staff members, parents and community need to use various forms of media (including online and social media) appropriately and effectively? (ACT Government, 2014).

The practicalities

Many schools/colleges are working to ensure there is a raised level of community engagement.  Extending this by developing a framework specific to the community builds upon current practice and provides an annual action plan, embedded with learning opportunities for both parents, carers and educators. This is critical to building, maintaining, extending and renewing partnerships.

The key to creating a successful culture for parental engagement rests on choosing the right strategies to meet the needs of students and the wider school community. Dr Joyce Epstein, Director of the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University (USA), has developed a framework for ‘Keys to Successful Partnerships’. The framework provides examples of how schools might strengthen their culture of parental engagement across six categories: Parenting, Communicating, Volunteering, Learning at Home, Decision Making, and Collaborating with Community. Practical examples for each category are outlined here.

Raising the learning outcomes for every student lies at the core of our work as educators. As Christians, our additional responsibility extends to valuing each person in our school community as persons of infinite worth, made in the image of God. Working collaboratively to seek the common good, in its deepest sense, reminds us that:

persons flourish in the small societies that best recognise them as persons — in family and the face-to-face associations of healthy workplaces, schools, teams, and of course churches’ (Crouch, 2012).

How is your school/college community engaging parents?

If you would like to share how your school/college is engaging parents and the wider community, please email gail.staples@edcomm.org.au with an overview and critique (300-500 words). Responses will be collated and published on this website. (Please ensure you have permission from your school/college Executive for EdComm to publish and advise as such in the email.) Sharing a collaborative learning culture develops professional collegiality and meets the AITSL Professional Engagement standards: 6.3 Engage with colleagues and improve practice, and 7.4 Engage with professional teaching networks and broader communities.

Want to know more?

  1. Radio interview: This interview features Dr. Debbie Pushor discussing the difference between parent involvement and parent engagement. She emphasises that 40 years of evidence shows it is parent engagement with schooling and education that improves learning outcomes for children and youth.
  2. People for Education is an independent, charitable group in Ontario, Canada. Their brief is to conduct research, make policy recommendations, and facilitate an extensive communications strategy to support public dialogue about education. Some of their excellent resources include: ‘Tips for Teachers’ sheet that has practical, easily implementable strategies to encourage parent engagement and 'Tips for Parents sheet' (available in 8 languages) including how to help children develop both a positive attitude toward learning and good work habits.
  3. Further research and evidence-based work has been done by the Global Family Research Project (previously known as The Harvard Family Research Project). Their work aims to ‘advance family engagement policies and programs that are systemic, equitable, and respectful across the settings where children learn — at home, at school, and in the community. They create frameworks for action based on research and documentation; collaborate with partner organisations to transform policy conversations; and connect different sectors to ensure that children learn, thrive, and succeed.’
  4. ARACY Parent Engagement in ACT Schools. Good Practice Case Studies Report


References:

ACT Government (2014). Progressing Parental Engagement. School Fact Sheet. Building a strong culture of parent-school engagement.
https://www.education.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/807431/150897-Building-a-Strong-Culture-of-Parent-School-Engagement_2.pdf

Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) What is Parent Engagement? https://www.aracy.org.au/the-nest-in-action/parent-engagement

Crouch, A. (2012). What's So Great About 'The Common Good? Why Christians need to revive the historically rich phrase.
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/november/whats-so-great-about-common-good.html

Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) (2013). Building Family Partnerships, quoted in Uplift: An Empowerment Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools. Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service. https://www.goodshep.org.au/media/1224/uplift_report.pdf

Epstein, J. (2009). School/family/community partnerships. Caring for the children we share. https://jreadingclass.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/school-family-community-partnerships.pdf

Goss, P. & Sonnemann, J. (2017). Engaging Students. Creating Classrooms that Improve Learning. The Grattan Institute. https://grattan.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Engaging-students-creating-classrooms-that-improve-learning.pdf

Maury, S. (2014) Uplift: An Empowerment Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools. Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service. https://www.goodshep.org.au/media/1224/uplift_report.pdf

Pyne, C. (2014, January 10). Media Releases: Review of National Curriculum to put Students First. Pyne Online: 52. http://www.pyneonline.com.au/media/media-releases/review-of-national-curriculum-to-putstudents-first

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of EdComm or the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. The intent is to promote thinking and discussion.

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